We all know we need fiber, it’s in all the “healthy” foods after all, right? But WHY is it so important that we get enough?
First of all, having a good amount of fiber in your diet is crucial to aiding your digestive health and all that relates to that – think no bloating or indigestion, regular and good, solid consistency of stools, no constipation, increased bowel integrity and function, thus minimizing the risk of conditions such as hemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Now if none of those issues affects you currently then you are probably doing ok with your levels of fiber, but MOST Americans suffer from more than one of the aforementioned issues and would benefit greatly from increasing the amount of fiber in their diet.
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams a day for men, which equates to about 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. The average American consumes 12-15 grams per day; WAY below what’s required.
There are two types of fiber: Insoluble fiber, found in whole-wheat flour products, wheat bran, nuts and vegetables, which increases stool bulk and promotes movement of food through the digestive system. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, carrots and citrus fruits, which dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that slows absorption of food components, thus allowing the body to retain more nutrients. Ideally your diet should contain a good balance of both types, not necessarily on a daily basis, but certainly on a weekly basis.
Studies have also shown that sufficient fiber in your diet can also prevent heart disease and cancer, help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels and helps with weight control. Basically it’s one nutritional component that you cannot do without.
A 2011 study reported by the National Institutes of Health found that those who consumed higher amounts of fiber over a nine-year period had a significantly less chance of dying from chronic disease than those who consumed less fiber. Fiber consumption of study participants ranged from 12.6 grams to 29.4 grams per day in men and from 10.8 grams to 25.8 grams per day in women. Those who consumed the most fiber each day had a 22 percent lower risk of death over the nine-year period than those who consumed the least amount of fiber.
So, how do we increase the amount of fiber in our diets without (a) it becoming “hard work” and (b) tasting like cardboard? Well, there are many quick and easy substitutions you can make and I will go through some shortly. Just a couple of warnings before you do this –(1) DO NOT try to do too much at once, your body needs time to adjust to digesting the increased amounts of fiber and will have difficulty if you overface it in one go. Go for one change a week and you will soon be where you need to be. (2) Your body requires water to successfully digest fiber, so whilst increasing your fiber levels, you also need to increase your water levels (another plus for your health).
Ready to make some changes? Try switching from white to brown – one thing at a time. Instead of white bread, you switch to brown. Same for pasta, rice, pita bread, burritos, couscous, etc. If you bake, switch to whole wheat flour in your cakes, or even half and half. If you change one thing a week, in just a few weeks you should be eating only whole grains, and should have increased your daily fiber consumption by an easy 10 grams without radically changing your diet!
Another easy one is snacks – get away from regular chips and opt for whole grain crackers or tortilla chips (there are plenty of healthy and tasty options out there) or popcorn! (Though not the heavily buttered/sugared/salted kind as that just introduces a whole different range of problems). Even better snack on baby carrots, celery sticks or broccoli dipped in ranch, eat an apple or nuts, seeds and dried fruit. It’s all about making the healthy options available – if you have them in your house, or in your lunch bag, you will eat them. You just need to change your shopping habits.
Last easy fix is cereal – eat a bowl a day, but not the high sugar kind and if you can’t face a bowl of All Bran, mix it with something else that you find more palatable.
If you can make these three, relatively simple changes, I guarantee that your fiber levels will reach the recommended levels. Good luck.